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Integrated social media strategy drives supplement sampling startup's rapid growth

By Hank Schultz , 31-Mar-2014
Last updated the 31-Mar-2014 at 17:54 GMT

Having a social media strategy as a foundational piece of a business can yield huge dividends in growth, as Lincoln, Neb. startup Bulu Box has demonstrated.  Founded by couple Stephanie and Paul Jarrett, Bulu Box uses a sampling method pioneered elsewhere to introduce brands to customers in focused fashion.  

By making its social media strategy a cornerstone, Bulu Box has seen extraordinary growth that has attracted the interest of investors, said co-founder Stephanie Jarrett, who drives the company’s social media strategy.

Robust growth

“We seen over 100% growth in some areas,” she told NutraIngredients-USA. “When we started we were packing boxes ourselves in the basement.  Now we have a warehouse with trucks leaving all the time.”

The private company’s monthly revenue has reportedly jumped from $4,000 in its first month in the fall of 2012 to more than $100,000 at the end of 2013. After raising $550,000 in its first round of financing, the company is in the midst of a second round, she said.

Bulu Box offers a subscription service in which customers get a monthly box delivered to their home with a selection of supplement and functional food samples. The company’s model marries direct mail marketing to social media to help companies reach a targeted audience with samples of their products.  And here’s the beauty of it: The consumers pay for the privilege.

 “We are providing brands with qualified customers, qualified leads.  These are folks who are already taking supplements most likely. They are paying money and they want to receive samples,” said Paul Jarrett, co-founder and CEO.

 He contrasted this model with what he called the ‘spray-and-pray’ model of sampling that he’d experienced at his previous job as vice president of marketing for Complete Nutrition, a chain of upscale supplement retail stores.

 Here’s how the company’s model works: Consumers sign up for a subscription for $10/month. For that price, the company mails out a ‘Bulu Box’ that contains several samples of high-quality supplements, something akin to a wine-of-the-month club. And there’s an element of discovery; you don’t know what’s in the box until you open it, allowing customers to try products they might never have otherwise. 

Since its inception the company has diversified its box offerings, said Stephanie Jarrett.

“In the fall of 2012 we promised our customers four to five samples in our box.  We have an original box and a weight loss box, and now we have anywhere from 15 to 30 brand partners in any given month and 10 to 15 versions of each box,” she said.

These differentiations are driven by questionnaires completed by customers. Among the brand partners offering samples to go into the boxes are companies like Twinlab and Clif Bar.

The customer as evangelist

Stephanie Jarrett said the company’s social media strategy is based on two principles: Engagement of the existing customer base and using social media as a cost effective way to find new customers. The beauty of using social media is that the two can intertwine, she said.

“We are a startup and we are all about growing our suscribers and our customers. We are constantly seeing new ways to use social media to do that. The big thing is you are motivating your customer to speak for you, to turn your customers into evangelists,” she said.

“Everyone wants to present the best picture of themselves on social media. We are very conscious of creating content that our fans and followers would want to share. We have tried to position Bulu Box as a brand synonymous with a healthy lifestyle. If you care about your health and eating properly, you should subscribe to Bulu Box,” she said.

Offering incentives

Along with that sharing strategy, which was part of the company’s plan from the start, as resources have grown more attention can be paid to incentivizing activity, Stephanie Jarrett said. The company drives its strategy thourgh all of the most-used social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“We have focused a lot recently on contests and promotions that have a sharing aspect to them. Can you do this yoga position, or a challenge around their knowledge of ingredients.  Every box we send out now has an Instagram challenge in it,” she said.

But key to those efforts is having an underlying strategy, Stephanie Jarrett said.  Without that, it’s hard to measure what effect the various contest and promotions are having.  Just doing social media for its own sake, because everyone else is doing it, is akin to the ‘spray and pray’ method of sampling the company was founded to counteract.

“The biggest thing to decide before you even develop a campaign, whether it’s a quiz or a sweepstakes, is what is the goal of that project?  Acquisition? Engagement? It could also be how many followers or fans you have on various platforms.  We have a definite cost of acquisition that we are trying to hit, and there are some great tools out there, such as on Facebook, that help us measure that,” she said.

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